• Season preview of The Cellar Dwellers: the Titans, Knights, Warriors and Bulldogs
  • Who can rise in 2020?

The Knights, Bulldogs, Titans and Warriors are the teams that I think have punished their fans the most in recent years.

They consistently miss out on finals and have deservedly been given little chance in 2020.

For the Knights and Titans, there’s some hope given they’ve finally replaced underperforming coaches. The Doggies showed a lot of promise at the end of 2019 and with Dean Pay finally getting a squad of his choosing, I wouldn’t write them off in 2020. The Warriors haven’t really shown any consistent improvement under Coach Kearney, with their finals outing in 2018 backed up with a very poor 2019.

While it’s tempting to assume these teams are just making up the numbers again in 2020, it’s worth going through their rosters to see if there’s any glimmers of hope.

NRL Season Preview: Gold Coast Titans

For all the Titans’ 2019 woes, there is a bit to be excited about in 2020.

New coach Justin Holbrook comes to Australia after success in the English Super League. In recent years guys like Michael McGuire and Trent Robinson have had success in the NRL after success in the UK, so the Titans will be hoping this formula works again.

Jonus Pearson (Dragons) and Greg Leleisiuao (Eels) are both solid acquisitions out wide, while Tanah Boyd will also apply pressure on the halves in 2020. But most importantly, Ash Taylor looks like he’s ready to fire after a horrid 2019 dealing with mental issues. He looked fit and firing at the 9s.

With some exciting young backs and some tried and tested forwards, the Titans will be a lot harder to beat in 2020 than they were in 2019.

NRL Season Preview: Newcastle Knights

Last year’s capitulation from the Knights was very strange. They looked to be finals-bound after a strong start to the season, and their form was rewarded with a ton of players getting picked in Origin. But it was all downhill from there.

Ponga and Pearce both had big drop-offs in form, and with guys like Ramien walking out it was clear there were issues at the club. I was always a staunch defender of Nathan Brown… but his rebuilding phase was taking too long and they had no option but to move on him.

For 2020, Jayden Brailey may be the man to plug their hole at 9, while Enari Tuala (Cowboys) and Gehamat Shibasaki (Broncos) have some potential out wide.

But overall, they’ve lost a lot more talent than they’ve signed.

The strategy of new coach Adam O’Brien is to put more faith in the young stars coming through such as Bradman Best, Phoenix Crossland, and Starford To’a.

While there’s a lot of uncertainty about the team under the new coach, I think their home ground and the star power of Ponga and Klemmer will see them stay clear of the cellar in 2020. But if Ponga goes down hurt, I would be taking on the Knights at every opportunity.

NRL Season Preview: New Zealand Warriors

There’s been very little player movement in 2020 for the Warriors, with Wayde Egan the only signing of any note. While the Warriors will lose Luke to the Dragons, overall it’s a very stable looking roster. Coach Kearney will put a lot of hope in guys like Chanel Harris-Tavita, Patrick Herbert, Adam Keighran, Josh Curran, Jackson Frei and Nathaniel Roache (once he comes back from injury).

I think this is the right approach, but I just hope the fans and club administrators have the patience to give these guys a chance to develop into regular first graders.

RTS can’t do it all, so Nikorima and Green must lift this year. And the forwards must strive to get back the intimidation factor that Warriors’ forward packs were once famous for.

The risk for the Warriors is that they lose RTS to injury. If that happens, they are clear cut favourites for the wooden spoon in my view. But if their younger guys do develop into solid contributors, then they should be able to stay clear of the bottom in 2020.

NRL Season Preview: Canterbury Bulldogs

Out of all these teams, the Bulldogs were the hardest to beat in 2019. Even before they finished with a purple patch of form at the end of the season, Coach Pay’s men were showing what good defence and a high completion rate can do.

The Doggies were 1 of 9 teams to concede less than 20 points per game in 2020, but at times their attack was pitiful. Lewis and Cogger failed to create enough chances and Foran didn’t play enough footy to make his mark. I think the man that Coach Pay has to turn to in 2020 is Brendan Wakeham. The Fijian international has shown what he can do and even if he’s not as solid in defence as Pay would want, it’s a risk that needs to be taken.

Tolman and Napa are great but they’re one-dimensional, traditional prop forwards. So I like the recruitment of Dean Britt (Rabbitohs) and Joe Stimson (Storm). Along with Adam Elliott, Corey Harawira-Naera and Josh Jackson, they’ll provide a lot of mobility and variety to the Bulldogs forward pack.

If the Doggies don’t find a way to score more points then they’ll again miss out on the finals. But their solid defensive platform and the sheer effort they display every time they take the field could see them push for a finals spot.

NRL Season Preview: The Cellar Dwellars Summary

Similar to my analysis of the competition heavyweights, I don’t think the short prices on offer on these teams to collect the wooden spoon represents value. The NRL is a very even competition and at times last year, all of these teams (besides the Titans) showed promise.

When the opportunity is right, I’ll definitely be looking to back these teams at the plus and the head-to-head.

Check out Steve’s preview of The Heavyweights here.

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